Department of Corrections and Community Supervision

Department of Correctional Services Response to NYSCOPBA Allegations

Background: The New York State Correctional Officers & Police Benevolent Association Inc. (NYSCOPBA) represents about 19,000 Correction Officers and nearly 1,300 Correctional Sergeants who work at State Correctional Facilities around New York. In late August 2009, NYSCOPBA issued a press release in which union President Donn Rowe inaccurately claimed that the Department of Correctional Services had secretly hired 53 deputy superintendents without budget approval at an annual cost to State taxpayers of $5.3 million. President Rowe also granted an interview to the Empire Page, an on-line news service, attributing a variety of practices to the Department that are inaccurate and/or misleading.

Below is the Department’s point-by-point response to the allegations in the press release and President Rowe’s Question-and-Answer session with the Empire Page:

NYSCOPBA: “The New York State Correction Officer’s Police Benevolent Association (NYSCOPBA) is outraged that the Commissioner of the New York State Department of Corrections would approve the budgeting of 53 deputy-superintendents during these uncertain and bleak fiscal times at a cost of $5.3 million to New York taxpayers.”
The facts: The Commissioner of the New York State Department of Correctional Services did no such thing. The 53 deputy superintendents were already in place, and their funding has been approved annually by the Division of the Budget going back many, many years. There is no new cost to state taxpayers.

Rowe: “… this department operates above the rules and quietly below the radar to get approval for 53 highly paid administrators in July 2009.”
NYSCOPBA: “ …The Department of Corrections had secretively hired the 53 deputy superintendents without approval from the department of budget.”
The facts: The Department of Correctional Services has employed 53 deputy superintendents to oversee the supervision of inmates at correctional facilities for many years. The agency has not hired any new deputy superintendents in recent years, other than those who may have been promoted to fill a vacancy (and the Department has left some deputy superintendent positions vacant in the past 17 months to help contain costs). The Department did, however, make an accounting change, moving those 53 deputy superintendents out of the broadly encompassing “Support Services” item line and into a new, specific item line as part of “Supervision of Inmates” to more accurately reflect their work and responsibilities and to increase transparency and accountability. At first, funding for the positions remained in “Support Services,” creating the potential appearance that the 53 positions under “Supervision of Inmates” were not funded. In July, funding for the positions was then appropriately moved out of “Support Services” and into “Supervision of Inmates” to correspond with the 53 actual employees. The Division of the Budget has approved funding annually for deputy superintendents, and no additional approval was needed from DOB to move the funding from one internal Department budget line to another.

Rowe: “Since September 2008, we have lost approximately 850 permanent correction officer items, which is almost ten percent of our entire workforce”
The facts: The number of Correction Officers is down by 484 since the September 17, 2008 payroll. That amounts to less than 2.5 percent of the entire Correction Officer workforce. An additional 247 Correction Officer positions are expected to be vacated once the Department closes six annexes on October 1, 2009. That would still bring the decrease to only 3.75 percent since September 2008. All of these Officer items still exist, though most are expected to be eliminated in the 2010-11 State Budget.

Rowe: “This myth that there are empty cells somewhere in the prison system is simply the department of corrections playing with the numbers on paper.”
The facts: After closing 2,200 previously staffed beds through consolidation and camp closures, all inmates were moved into existing, staffed vacant beds in other facilities and housing units without the Department adding a single bed anywhere, thus proving that there were indeed empty beds and still are, since the Department will close at least six annexes on Oct. 1, 2009 without adding any beds.

Rowe: “The Commissioner will say he has not filled administrative vacancies, but he has made no cuts to the administration. The Commissioner made the security cuts to the correction officer title in September/October of 2008 and again in April 2009. This means he turned over 850 permanent items to the Department of Budget. That means we never get them back and that is much different than not filling vacancies.”
The facts: There are actually 9 more funded Correction Officer positions now than there were on Sept. 3, 2008 (19,682 now vs. 19,673 then), and the Department currently has budget authorization for 680 currently vacant Correction Officer positions. The Department has reduced the number of Central Office administrative employees by 5.25 percent since April 1, 2008, while reducing the number of Correction Officer positions by only 3.93 percent during that period.

Rowe: “Each of the 67 prisons has a Superintendent, a Deputy Superintendent for Security, a Deputy Superintendent for Administration, a Deputy Superintendent for Programs, an Institutional Steward, two and sometimes three Captains.”
The facts: Not all facilities have three deputy superintendents.

Rowe: “…many of the superintendents get additional salary for being the “HUB Superintendent.”
The facts: There is no additional pay for being a HUB Superintendent, although the Commissioner in the past has approved “merit” pay for HUB superintendents in recognition of their additional duties when such pay was available. This year, no such “merit” pay was available.

Rowe: “You take max(imum security) inmates out of the maximum prison and change their security classification into medium security and move them to a medium security facility. Just like magic, you now have max inmates in medium prisons where they are never locked in and it puts the officer in quite a bit of needless danger on a daily basis.”
The facts: Maximum security inmates “age into” and earn medium security classification based on a positive behavioral record, program participation and time to earliest release – established criteria that have been in place and have proven effective for more than two decades by providing incentives to keep all the prisons safe. The number of violent felony offenders in the State prison system has actually dropped by 7 percent since the end of 1999, from 38,059 to 35,409 at the end of 2008.

Rowe: “Of course, if an inmate commits an infraction or crime while in prison there are additional sanctions which could include spending some time in the special housing unit (SHU), but for the most part that is a small percentage of the population.”
The facts: As of today (Sept. 1, 2009), there are 4,472 inmates in SHUs, or 7.5 percent of the total prison population.

Rowe: “…meals are prepared and served for both religious and medical needs at all of New York’s prisons.”
The facts: Such meals are required by the courts.

Rowe: “All visits in the maximum security prison are open visiting rooms sitting at tables where they hug, kiss and play with their children …”
The facts: Not all maximum security prison visiting rooms are open with tables.

Rowe: “The inmates have constant access to payphones throughout each and every prison.”
The facts: There are proscribed times for inmates to have access to phones; it is not "constant".

Rowe: “Prisons are filled with 100% violent felons.”
The facts: More than 40 percent of all inmates are non-violent offenders.

Rowe: “ … our Commissioner … his administration building in Albany maintains 907 employees making very high salaries.”
The facts: There are fewer than 700 employees in Central Office, and that includes staff of the Albany Training Academy, investigators from the Inspector General’s Office and infection control nurses. A total of 83 are security staff. The vast majority of Central Office employees do not earn six-figure salaries.

September 1, 2009